Prostitution has been around since time immemorial. It is sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest profession with brothels dating back to mughal era. As Google defines it, Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual relations for exchange of payment or other benefits. With women and children being increasingly forced into this business, it has become one of the most sensitive issues demanding immediate legal action.
A recent proposal by the National Commission for Women chief, Lalitha Kumaramangalam to legalise prostitution in India has once again spurred the debate whether legalising prostitution can actually help curb the menace of human trafficking or will it only lead to increase in this sector?
There are two schools of thought on this issue- those like Ms. Kumaramangalam in the favour of legalising and those opposing her stance.
Ms. Kumaramangalam and the likes emphasise that legalisation of prostitution in India would ensure better living conditions for women engaged in sex trade in terms of improved hygiene, regularised working hours and wages, etc. Today, most men refuse using condoms leading to increase in the cases of STDs. Women engaged in this trade are very often harassed by the police and society; exploited by the pimps and brothel owners and physically abused by their clients. Some of them are paid as low as 1$-1.5$. Children and young girls are trafficked and forced in this business. Parents in backward areas of the country sell their children for a mere 2000- 3000 Rs. On top of all this, the sex worker has to face the wrath of the society. The same society which forces her in this trade, insults her, denying the right to a respectable life.
Proponents feel all these issues can positively be dealt with by legalising this business.
While, on the other hand, organisations like Apne Aap, which work towards ending trafficking, argue that legalising prostitution will only give immunity to the traffickers and brothel-keepers encouraging them to expand their business eventually leading to a rise in this industry. Writer and activist Rami Chhabra, who heads Apne Aap, quotes the example of Germany, where legalisation has only lead to doubling of the prostitution industry.
The German government legalized prostitution mainly to offer prostitutes protection from violence and exploitation but it couldn’t do much to contain prostitution and improve conditions for the workers due to the loopholes in the legislation.
There are some who are forced into this flesh trade while others who do this out of choice because being uneducated and unskilled, they can find no better job that earns them a livelihood. Whatever the reason maybe, these workers, like workers in any other profession, deserve social security, hygienic working conditions, regular wages and respect in the society. As many as 50% of the sex workers in Kamathipura, the famous Red Light Street of Mumbai are HIV positive since their clients refused to use condoms. These women hesitate visiting doctors as doctors seldom agree to treat them. Prostitution, if legalised, would help these workers to live a respectable life ensuring better living conditions. To curb the menace of child and woman trafficking, the government needs to devise stricter laws. Although brothel ownership and pimping are illegal in india, lack of proper implementation and rampant corruption renders these laws ineffective. It is time we review our anachronous laws and acts to bring them at par with the current scenario.